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“Here’s a letter for you, Harry,” said George Howard. “I was passing the hotel on my way home from school when Abner Potts called out to me from the piazza, and asked me to bring it.”The speaker was a bright, round-faced boy of ten. The boy whom he addressed was five or six years older. Only a week previous he had lost his father, and as the family consisted only of these two, he was left, so far as near relatives were concerned, alone in the world.Immediately after the funeral he had been invited home by Mr. Benjamin Howard, a friend of his father, but in no manner connected with him by ties of relationship.“You can stay here as long as you like, Harry,” said Mr. Howard, kindly. “It will take you some time to form your plans, perhaps, and George will be glad to have your company.”“Thank you, Mr. Howard,” said Harry, gratefully.“Shall you look for some employment here?”“No; my father has a second cousin in Colebrook, named John Fox. Before he died he advised me to write to Mr. Fox, and go to his house if I should receive an invitation.”
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THE DANGER SIGNAL
The man pointed out to Harry as his guardian was tall, loosely put together, with a sharp, thin visage surrounded by a thicket of dull-red hair. He came forward as Harry jumped to the ground after descending from the elevated perch, and said: “I reckon this is Harry Vane?”
“ That is my name, sir.”
“ Glad to see you. Just take your traps, and come along with me. Mrs. Fox will have supper ready by the time we come.”
Harry was not, on the whole, attracted by the appearance of his guardian. There was a crafty look about the eyes of Mr. Fox which seemed to make his name appropriate. He surveyed his young ward critically.
“ You’re pretty well grown,” he said.
“ Yes, sir.”
“ And look stout and strong.”
“ I believe I am both.”
“ My boy, Joel, is as tall as you, but not so hefty. He’s goin’ to be tall like me. He’s a sharp boy—Joel.”
“ By the way, you didn’t write how much property your father left.”
“ After the funeral bills are paid, I presume there’ll be only about three hundred dollars left.”
Mr. Fox stopped short and whistled.
“ Father hadn’t much talent at making money,” said Harry, soberly.
“ I should say not. Why, that money won’t last you no time at all.”
“ I am old enough to work for a living. Isn’t there something I can find to do in Colebrook?”
“ I guess I can give you work myself—There’s always more or less to do ‘round a place. I keep a man part of the time, but I reckon I can let him go and take you on instead. You see, that will count on your board, and you don’t want to spend your money too fast.”
“ Very well, sir. There’s only one thing I will stipulate; I will wait a day or two before going to work. I want to look about the place a little.”
While this conversation was going on, they had traveled a considerable distance. A little distance ahead appeared a square house, painted yellow, with a barn a little back on the left, and two old wagons alongside.
“ That’s my house,” said John Fox. “There’s Joel.”
Joel, a tall boy in figure, like his father, came forward and eyed Harry with sharp curiosity.
“ How are ye?” said Joel, extending a red hand, covered with warts.
“ Pretty well, thank you,” said Harry, not much attracted to his new acquaintance.
“ Here’s Sally, too!” said John Fox. “Sally, this is my ward, Harry Vane.”
Sally, who bore a striking family resemblance to her father and brother, giggled.
Mrs. Fox, to whom Harry was introduced at the supper table, was as peculiar in her appearance and as destitute of beauty as the rest of the family.
The next day, Harry, feeling it must be confessed, rather homesick, declined Joel’s company, and took an extended stroll about the town. He found that though the railway by which he had come was eight miles distant, there was another, passing within a mile of the village. He struck upon it, and before proceeding far made a startling discovery. There had been some heavy rains, which had washed out the road for a considerable distance, causing the track to give way.
“ Good heavens!” thought Harry, “if a train comes over the road before this is mended, there’ll be a wreck and loss of life. What can I do?”
Just across the field stood a small house. In the yard the week’s washing was hung out. Among the articles was a red tablecloth.
“ May I borrow that tablecloth?” asked Harry, in excitement, of a woman in the doorway.
“ Land sakes! what for?” she asked.
“ To signal the train. The road’s washed away.”
“ Yes, yes; I’m expectin’ my darter on that train,” answered the woman, now as excited as our hero. “Hurry up! the train’s due in fifteen minutes.”
Seizing the tablecloth, Harry gathered it quickly into a bundle and ran back to the railroad. He hurried down the track west of a curve which was a few hundred feet beyond the washout, and saw the train coming at full speed. He jumped on a fence skirting the tracks, and waved the tablecloth wildly.
“ Will they see it?” he asked himself, anxiously.
It was an anxious moment for Harry as he stood waving the danger signal, uncertain whether it would attract the attention of the engineer. It did! The engineer, though not understanding the meaning of the signal, not knowing indeed, but it might be a boy’s freak, prudently heeded it, and reversing the engine, stopped the train a short distance of the place of danger.
“ Thank God!” exclaimed Harry, breathing a deep sigh of relief.
The engineer alighted from the train, and when he looked ahead, needed no explanation.
“ My boy!” he said, with a shudder, “you have saved the train.”
“ I am glad of it, sir. My heart was in my mouth, lest you should not see my signal.”
By this time the passengers, whose curiosity had been roused by the sudden halt, began to pour out of the cars.
When they saw the washout, strong men turned pale, and ladies grew faint, while many a fervent ejaculation of gratitude was heard at the wonderful escape.
“ We owe our lives to this boy!” said the engineer. “It was he who stood on the fence and signaled me. We owe our deliverance to this—tablecloth.”
A small man, somewhat portly, pushed his way up to Harry.
“ What is your name, my lad?” he asked, brusquely.
“ Harry Vane.”
“ I am the president and leading stockholder of the road, and my property has come very near being the death of me. Gentlemen”—here the president turned to the group of gentlemen around him—“don’t you think this boy deserves a testimonial?”
“ Yes, yes!” returned the gentlemen, in chorus.
“ So do I, and I lead off with a subscription of twenty dollars.”
One after another followed the president’s lead, the president himself making the rounds bareheaded, and gathering the contributions in his hat.
“ Oh, sir!” said Harry, as soon as he understood what was going forward, “don’t reward me for what was only my duty. I should be ashamed to accept anything for the little I have done.”
“ You may count it little to save the lives of a train full of people,” said the president, dryly, “but we set a slight value upon our lives and limbs. Are you rich?”
“ No, sir.”
“ So I thought. Well, you needn’t be ashamed to accept a little testimonial of our gratitude. You must not refuse.”
When all so disposed had contributed, the president gathered the bills from the hat and handed the pile to Harry.
“ Take them, my boy,” he said, “and make good use of them. I shall owe you a considerable balance, for I value my life at more than twenty dollars. Here is my card. If you ever need a friend, or a service, call on me.”
Then the president gave directions to the engineer to run back to the preceding station, where there was a telegraph office, from which messages could be sent in both directions to warn trains of the washout.
Harry was left with his hands full of money, hardly knowing whether he was awake or dreaming.
One thing seemed to him only fair—to give the owner of the tablecloth some small share of the money, as an acknowledgment for the use of her property.
“ Here, Madam,” said Harry, when he had retraced his steps to the house, “is your tablecloth, for which I am much obliged. It saved the train.”
“ Well, I’m thankful! Little did I ever think a tablecloth would do so much good. Why, it only cost me a dollar and a quarter.”
“ Allow me to ask your acceptance of this bill to pay you for the use of it.”
“ Land sakes! why, you’ve given me ten dollars!”
“ It’s all right. It came from the passengers. They gave me something too.”
“ You didn’t tell me your name.”
“ My name is Harry Vane.”
“ Do you live round here? I never heerd the name afore.”
“ I’ve just come to the village. I’m going to live with John Fox.”
“ You don’t say! Be you any kin to Fox?”
“ Not very near. He’s my guardian.”
“ If he hears you’ve had any money give you, he’ll want to take care of it for you.”
This consideration had not occurred to Harry. Indeed, he had for so short a time been the possessor of the money, of which he did not know the amount, that this was not surprising.
“ Well, good-morning!” he said.
“ Good-morning! It’s been a lucky mornin’ for both of us.”
“ I must go somewhere where I can count this money unobserved,” he said to himself.
Not far away he saw a ruined shed.
Harry entered the shed, and sitting down on a log, took out the bills, which he had hurriedly stuffed in his pocket, and began to count them.
“ Almost three hundred dollars!” murmured Harry, joyously. “It has been, indeed, a lucky morning for me. It has nearly doubled my property.”
The question arose in his mind: “Should he give this money to Mr. Fox to keep for him?”
“ No,” he decided, “I won’t give him this money. I won’t even let him know I have it.” Where, then, could he conceal it? Looking about him, he noticed a little, leather-covered, black trunk, not more than a foot long, and six inches deep. It was locked, but a small key was in the lock.
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